7 tips for a happier step-family
Getting together with a new partner often means learning to love their children, too – and introducing a new ‘parent’ to your own. But balancing everyone’s needs in a blended family is tricky. We asked Harley Street Life Coach & Counsellor Ivana Franekova for her tips on how to make it work.
1 Plan a gentle transition into your blended family.
The first step is discussing the new family system with your partner. Care is needed, so take it slowly, bearing in mind the impact on the children. You and your new partner might be excited about moving in together or getting married, but your children feel differently. Chances are, they are still hurt from the divorce or separation so unless strong foundations for new a family system are laid over time, the transition process can be painful and complicated.
Wait at least a year or two after you meet your new partner to let the children get to know him or her properly. Let the bond between them strengthen. Children will accept your new partner and possible siblings in time, so don’t rush into your new life.
2 Bond with your new blended family.
Each partner will want to create a strong bond with stepchildren. To do that, plan plenty of fun activities together, but also allow for quality time spent at home. Real life is mainly home-based, and the bonding will develop when going through normal day-to-day tasks and routines. A new step-parent may want to find an enjoyable task to do with the children, creating some time alone with them. What that task should be depends on the age of the child; if it’s a small child, perhaps read a book together in the evening; for a teenager, offer help with homework, or driving to an after-school activity.
Children won’t just accept a new person; they need time. Give them the space, love and understanding that they need, while making sure they know you’re not taking the place of their biological parent.
3 Set clear boundaries.
From the start, the child will need to know who is in charge of ‘parenting’. At first, if possible, the biological parents should oversee discipline, to avoid confusion. Step-parents should act more as a friend and less than a parent in the first year of marriage, at least. As time goes on and trust deepens, disciplinary tasks can be introduced by the step-parent – with supportive positive input from both biological parents, if possible. Clear communication is needed between all adults to maintain a happy life for the children.
4 Stick to the routines.
Children thrive on routine. When a marriage breaks down, it creates insecurity, stress and loss of a safety blanket, which is hurtful for both adults and children. From the start, work on creating new routines together that include each family member, consciously choosing routines similar to your previous family arrangements. One important part of this is a holiday routine when it comes to birthdays and special holidays. Set firm boundaries about who will see the children when and stick to them. Alternate important holidays and plan for them, involving the children in your decisions.
This sounds so obvious, yet communication is often neglected. Parents underestimate children’s need for information when creating a new family, but at this confusing time, they need lots of talking! They will need reassurance, love, and to express themselves to both parents and step-parents. They need to be shown how to approach conflict, and discuss issues in the new environment. The parent should also be prepared to deal with the child’s issues regarding the new partner.
Equally, biological parents should be able to discuss their children’s needs together without having to include the new partner, if necessary. However, they should be involved in other decision-making talks to avoid individuals feeling excluded.
6 Maintain trust, safety and family traditions.
By communicating clearly, allowing time for the new patterns to take hold and new routines to firmly integrate into a blended family, you will create a safe, happy environment and ‘normalise’ the situation. If you as parents show love and respect towards one another and your children, then the transitional process will be much quicker and easier. Above all, respect and be civil towards the biological parent of your children.
7 Create a strong bond with your new partner.
When a new blended family is created, life can be chaotic. Things are very different for parents who re-marry than for people who marry for the first time. In blended families, the strong focus will be on the children and their happiness; however, do not neglect your own new marital bond!